What the Covid inquiry is telling us about the UK preparedness in early 2020

Back in 2020 (and 2021) I went out on a limb stating that when it come down to the pandemic preparation in early 2020, ie before March 23rd the UK government did not take the risk of Covid seriously enough and did not act when it should. This was (and is) particularly important because of the sudden decision to award directly contracts especially for PPE. My point back then was that the government, in particular the Department of Health and Social Care, had brought upon itself the urgency of being found out without enough PPE to go around during the first wave of Covid. The importance of this cannot be overstated since one of the fundamental conditions for the extreme urgency grounds to be applicable in public procurement is that the contracting authority cannot have created the urgency itself by not discharging its duties with an adequate level of care.

It is fair to say I did get some pushback for my view and how that implied an unreasonably high threshold of competence and behaviour by decision makers in the run up to a serious medical emergency. I never went back to that line of argument as soon after it was obvious the government was acting illegally when *after* the first wave it kept awarding contracts directly for PPE like a drunken sailor via the VIP lane about which there should be no doubts of its illegal discriminatory nature. That those mountains of PPE were never needed in the first place is also evident when vast amounts of it were left to rot in containers at a cost to taxpayers of £1m/day in late 2020. In early 2022 1.5b of unused PPE items had expired and by 2023 3bn items of PPE had been disposed of. Since necessity is another of the requirements to meet for the extreme urgency grounds to be met, this requirement was also breached. While it is fair to say hindsight is 20/20 the fact of the matter is that the scale of these 'emergency' purchases based on an illegal deactivation of procurement rules are well beyond what could be considered as a safe bet made in a difficult time.

Fast forward to late 2023 and the Covid inquiry is finally upon us and providing critical information about the run up to first lockdown. Overall there is no real smoking gun that either supports or sinks my original line of thought on the illegality of those initial PPE procurement purchases.

What we are seeing from the evidence, however, is a broad picture emerging about the government. A picture of not taking the disease seriously to the point of the Cabinet Secretary allegedly comparing it to chickenpox on March 12th, not acting upon existing information and even dismissing the seriousness of the disease once it reached Italy.

We're yet to hear from the then Health Secretary or anyone else from the Department of Health and Social Care, but so far my point holds: even those first PPE contracts were awarded illegally since urgency of the lack of PPE was brought about by the government itself even if I am wiling to account for my own confirmation bias.

Honestly, I much prefer to have been wrong all along.